Senate approves EPA funding bill in bipartisan vote The U.S. Senate approved its Interior-Environment spending bill last week in an extraordinarily bipartisan vote of 92-6. The House passed its version of the bill in late July and has already approved all 12 of its individual spending bills for Fiscal Year 2019. The Senate has now approved 7 of 12 spending bills on its docket. Though the House and Senate Interior-Environment bills differ slightly on funding levels for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water programs, both include substantive increases to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund programs. This is good news leading up to a back-and-forth between the two chambers that is likely to be contentious. The Senate largely avoided controversial “poison pill” amendments in crafting a bipartisan bill, while the House took a more party-line approach. The two may have to meet in the middle to ensure passage before federal funding expires on Sept. 30. Congress in August recess, sort of August is traditionally the time when Congress leaves Washington for “Work Week” in the home state or district, vacation or official travel. However, this year, members of the Senate face an abbreviated recess. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this summer announced that the Senate would recess only for the first full week of August, blaming Democrats for obstructing legislative progress on a long list of important legislation. Critics say he is trying to keep vulnerable Democrats off the campaign trail. On the other hand, the House of Representatives is taking the traditional August recess seriously. That body adjourned July 26 and will not be back in Washington until Sept. 4. That’s likely because every member of the House who is not retiring is up for re-election. EPA closes on two more WIFIA loans Program administrators for the WIFIA program at the EPA have closed out two more loans in this first round of loans using Fiscal Year 2017 funds. The first loan is for $135 million to the Orange County Water District to help it expand its groundwater replenishment system . The water district expects to save up to $16 million by financing through WIFIA and create 700 jobs. Once completed, the facilities will purify treated wastewater from the Orange County Sanitation District to produce an additional 30 million gallons of drinking water a day. This will reduce the county’s need to import water in a drought-prone area, reduce discharges into the ocean and increase recharge of local groundwaters. The second loan is for $699 million to finance nearly half the cost of replacing the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s existing and outdated solids treatment facilities with new biosolids digester systems. They will produce up to 24,000 dry tons of biosolids annually by 2045. The commission expects to save up to $398 million by financing with WIFIA and create about 3,300 jobs. In this first round of WIFIA loans, the EPA received 43 letters of interest in loans and invited 12 prospective borrowers to proceed to the formal application phase. The Orange County and San Francisco projects are the third and fourth loans applications that the agency has closed. Trade agency hears of tariff impacts An interagency federal panel heard testimony from more than 80 witnesses in late July on how tariffs, and proposed tariffs, will affect their businesses in a two-day hearing hosted by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Witnesses came from the chemical, manufacturing, semiconductor, solar energy, retail, steel and other sectors. They were commenting on a list of proposed tariffs published June 20. A transcript of the hearing will eventually be available in a public docket. Written comments from people unable to attend the hearing in person are already online. AWWA Government Affairs staff would like to better understand how these tariffs and proposed tariffs are affecting or may affect water utilities and related manufacturing concerns, for good or for ill. We encourage you or your utility or business to provide comments by email . AWWA weighs in on source water as Farm Bill enters key phase With both the House and Senate having named conferees to iron out a single 2018 Farm Bill , AWWA has written those conferees to reinforce gains the association has made in source water protection measures and to urge adoption of more. The Senate is sending nine members (in a 5-4 party allocation) to the conference and the House 47, ( 29 Republicans and 18 Democrats ). When the House and Senate pass different versions of the same legislation, certain members are appointed to a House-Senate conference to produce a single bill. That bill goes back to each body for a yea or nay vote without amendment. Federal agricultural policy is up for renewal every five years in legislation nicknamed “the Farm Bill,” although the actual title may be different. Conferees have begun preliminary meetings. AWWA saw all its policy goals for source water protection in the Farm Bill’s conservation title written into the House version. The Senate version has about 90 percent of AWWA’s goals. One thing lacking in the Senate bill is, in the administrative text of the conservation title, a dedication of 10 percent of conservation funds being dedicated to projects that protect sources of water. We will continue advocating for that inclusion in the final bill. AWWA comments on proposal to update NEPA AWWA just submitted comments to the Council on Environmental Quality’s proposal to update procedural matters of the National Environmental Policy Act. The proposal, which is short on specifics, is intended to expedite environmental reviews across all agencies. Several federal agencies have recently issued, or are preparing revisions to, implementation of the NEPA. The U.S. Department of Interior just issued new guidelines setting goals for more quickly prepared and shorter environmental reviews. The NEPA covers significant federal actions, including projects directly administered by agencies and certain federal permits and funding mechanisms. It focuses on exploring the potential environmental effects of various options along with economic, social, and other considerations. Water utilities are sometimes project proponents, looking to build or be part of a project, and sometimes are stakeholders, concerned about the potential impacts of someone else’s project on water resources or source water protection.